Here’s how those of us from poverty who have been poor all long have experienced life (including shabby treatment from the middle class) and how we’ve seen things these past 30 years since the Reagan Revolution began in 1980.
One of the most common memes thrown in our faces since then has been and still is “Have you ever been employed by someone who is poor?” (i.e. it’s the rich who create the jobs)
The rich do not create jobs. They create profit and wealth for themselves by eliminating jobs, slashing/suppressing wages and benefits. This is referred to as “cutting costs” or “increasing the bottom line” (which benefits CEO’s and increased portfolio appreciation and dividend payouts for those able to afford to invest in equities through 401(k)’s and the like).
And as a matter of fact, the poor do create jobs and other forms of profit/income generation for the middle and upper classes who don’t even have to break a sweat for it.
The poor are deprived of access to living wage jobs in a jobs market in which there never, never, never were enough living wage jobs to go around for everyone in need of a job and who wanted one. The poor are denied access to living wage jobs with health benefits through credentialism (established by the owning class with collaboration from the middle class) while being denied access to the education and training they need to be employable at living wage jobs.
Employers use the credit report and FICO score and work history gaps to deny the poor jobs (even menial, poverty wage Wal-Mart jobs). This ensured that the middle class got all the jobs in our depleted jobs pool (which had been shrinking since
1980) while the poor — the underclass from the trailer parks and ghettos — got 100% economically excluded (with poor women being at the very bottom of every pile); and then demonized for our “lack of work ethic” — making us “undeserving” of even any paltry inadequate welfare benefits for being such jobless “losers” and “lazy
Meanwhile, middle class state employees — the bureaucrats at unemployment offices across the US — told socio-economically disadvantaged job applicants in the most dire need of living wage jobs that “no one owes you a job” and have outright refused to even give us a job application for one of those union jobs as an $18/hr meter reader for the local utility companies.
The poor also provide middle class bureaucrats with comfortable office jobs as welfare caseworkers, children & youth social workers, detention center counselors, non-profit charity administrators, prison staff, and the list goes on.
The middle class enjoy civil service jobs with benefits and job protection in all areas of employment centered on managing the poor — whom they despise, even though they’re getting their nice, secure, stable paychecks off the backs of the very people they look down on with scorn and deride with contempt as children of a lesser god in need of punishment for the status crime of living while poor in AmeriKKKa. It's as if we somehow owe them a debt for being born into their world.
The poor overwhelmingly comprise the US prison population. Prisons are the largest “subsidized housing” program in the country that provides local, state, and federal middle class jobs in running the prison-industrial complex. The rich benefit the most from this via the civilian inmate labor program (AR-210-35) which is inmate slave labor — paid 22 – 47 cents an hour for making Victoria Secret lingerie, computer motherboards, and even data entry work and taking telephone reservations — all with no workers’ comp, no federal minimum wage, no social security withholding, no unemployment insurance, and no pesky unions or workers’ rights agitators.
The middle and upper classes are also subsidized by the poor by the Welfare Reform Act (which imposed a five year lifetime cap on welfare benefits) through its component known as Workfare in which the government subsidizes corporations for any Workfare labor. It’s a no rights, no minimum wage involuntary workforce of mostly desperately poor women that provides this cheap labor. Workfare employers pay only a fraction of the paltry federal minimum wage for each worker that is a poor welfare recipient on TANF. The rich get richer off of subsidized slave labor and the middle class benefits from cheap goods and better paying supervisory/managerial jobs overseeing the poor Workfare workers.
Oddly, the ONLY member of the Left who recognized that childbirth and raising children was actually work was Noam Chomsky.
The poor who are disabled who are the lucky ones that weren’t denied disability benefits — those who are struggling to survive on $600/mo SSI, which isn’t enough to live on anywhere in the US — also provide hefty subsidies for the rich through exploitative “special minimum wage waivers.” These are “workshops” that do the jobs subcontracted from some of our biggest corporations and the jobs are mostly assembly line or piece work. Any disabled person who ends up in one of these workshop jobs can be paid as little as $1.50/hr. Technically, the wages are supposed to reflect the actual rate or prevailing wage a non-disabled worker doing the same job would be paid. But in reality, the employer gets to decide whatever wage he wishes to pay.
The formula used by the government by which these slave wages reduce a disabled worker’s monthly SSI/SSDI benefit is such that if the disabled person’s job (paycheck) stops abruptly, there wouldn’t be enough left in SSI/SSDI benefits alone to even cover rent for a place to live. After a disabled worker’s employment ends at one of these “workshops”, it takes up to 6 months before their full SSI/SSDI
benefits are restored — which very effectively keeps the disabled trapped in slave wage jobs programs.
America’s poor today have higher disability rates, lower life expectancy rates and higher maternal and infant mortality rates than people in many Third World countries due to a real lack of access to health care and any real safety net. Compounding the problem is that access to abortion and reliable contraception for poor women has
dwindled greatly over the last 15 years, even though a destitute woman on welfare gets no prenatal care, no dental care (which is critical because the fetus harnesses all the woman’s organ systems and drains her body of calcium which leads to bone
and tooth loss) , or additional help from welfare for a baby born while she’s already receiving paltry TANF benefits that don't even cover the cost of housing.
But the working class and the poor (you know, us “stray animals that will only breed if fed”) aren’t reproducing a large enough reserve army of surplus labor and aren’t dying off fast enough to suit capitalism’s “winners.” And there are fewer and fewer “winners” and more and more “losers” in this No Pea shell game in our Serengeti
economy than at any other point in American history since the Great Depression officially began 81 years ago.
The needs of the poor and working class are always disregarded, ignored, and shoved aside while political candidates fawn over the middle class. The middle class has gotten (and still gets) all the attention paid to their grievances while the poor get nothing except told to “shut up and stop whining.”
Time after time these last 30+ years, the poor have been made to “take one for the team” by both political parties with the full blessing and support of the middle class.
Every time there’s sacrifices and compromises to be made, it’s always the poor who get offered up as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of capitalism with lots of hand-wringing and excuses by “progressives” and their organizations of “We’re sorry, but we had to compromise your needs otherwise we would have gotten nothing to address ours. Sorry if some people have to be left out, but if you wait your
turn while we get our agenda met first, we can eventually negotiate for your needs next time.”
But there never is a “next time” and our turn never comes.
It’s extremely offensive and classist that the concept of “Joe the Plumber” and “Main Street” is used to insulate the middle class from the suffering of those who are far worse off. We always hear the battle cries of “Why is the government destroying the middle class?” and “The middle class is under attack!” and variations thereof —
implying that “destroying the poor is perfectly OK, but threatening the middle class is going too far.”
The political elite, who are elected by middle class voters, aspire to be part of the owning class — the very same class that view the needs of the common people as an economic nuisance. (Note that the word “entitlement” is used as a derogatory weapon that is never applied to FEMA’s black budget or the Pentagon budget.)
Tax breaks essentially pay corporations to ship jobs out of America to the lowest and sleaziest bidder to places like Indonesia and El Salvador where workers are paid 15 cents an hour; lowering the tax base and stressing the social safety net (what’s left of it) and adding to the deficit. Meanwhile, the poorest of the poor
jobless whose only income is food stamps — about six million of the long-term unemployed — have had their food stamps taken away from them with cuts to the program in order to pay for an unemployment benefit extension for middle class unemployed people who are eligible for benefits.
Those in the most need of a chance for a job and an economic lifeline are going to be starved to death to pay for a benefit for only SOME unemployed people, mainly those who are middle class.
There’s a double standard: the Golden Parachute for the rich and their whores in Congress, the Oval Office, and the US Supreme Court near the top of the economic ladder, and the Lead Anchor standard for the 98% on the lower and bottom rungs.
So why is it OK for the poor to be crushed underfoot, suffering in misery and deprivation with higher disability rates, maternal and infant mortality rates, and lower life expectancies — all due to lack of access to medical care and other basic human needs — than people in many Third World nations while only the grievances of the middle class matter?
If it’s not acceptable to destroy the middle class, then it’s not acceptable to destroy the poor.
If it’s not OK for middle class women and girls to be forced to work in the seedy sex industry under exploitative, dehumanizing and degrading conditions with no social security credits and other benefits due to job discrimination and lack of equal opportunity for jobs with dignity, why should it be OK for poor women and girls? If it’s not OK for your wives and daughters, it’s not OK for us.
If it’s not OK for middle class boys and men to fight in imperialist wars (that only serve the interests of the very rich) only to get blown up, maimed, and killed; then it’s not OK for our men either.
For over 30 years that fascist right-wing politicians (whose generous salaries, perks, travel expenses, Cadillac health care, and $90,000/yr retirement benefits are paid for by the public) worked to dismantle laws and social programs and safety nets that benefited the working class and the poor; the poor were promised a share of the pie if only we’d quietly wait our turn, hats in hand, after Reagan’s trickle-down economics first benefited the rich and the middle class.
But we never got our turn.
During every debate and discourse on universal health care, provisions in health care reform bills that would have helped the poor were jettisoned in the name of “compromise.” Those of us in poverty never got our turn after the middle class got what they wanted. We’re fed up and we’re through being polite because we can’t wait anymore. And we won’t. We’re sick and tired of being appointed to “take one for the team.”
(And no, we will not “shut up and stop whining”, thank you very much.)
We stand on the precipice of irreversible catastrophe to humanity. We have an over privileged overclass of economic terrorists on Wall Street pulling the strings of their stooges in Congress and in the presidential cabinet like Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who wants to cut social security and his partner in crime, the head of the Catfood Commission, Al Simpson, who called the social security program a “milk cow with 310 million tits.”
Of course, both of those scumbags (along with every other Congresscritter), enjoy the high life off of the public tit. I don’t know about you, but my tits are starting to hurt. Maybe it’s time we pry our greedy arrogant lawmakers’ mouths off of our tits and let them go try and make a living selling overpriced detergent for Amway.
This is about social class justice and human rights. Do you stand on the side of human rights and dignity for ALL, or do you stand on the side of maintaining the same broken system of unearned privileges that brought us to this point in the first place in order to hopefully win some token scraps from the filthy rich just so you can
preserve what’s left of your middle class privilege? The choice is yours. Be the change!
Jacqueline S. Homan is a freelance writer and the author of Classism For Dimwits who fights the economic injustices of classism and poverty with the power of the pen.
Hi Jacqueline. Thanks for those thoughts. Like a lot of outside observers, I'm puzzled by the way people in the USA (except you) use the word class. The whole Democrat campaign seemed to be about saving or restoring (or whatever) the middle class. The expression 'working class' seems to be alien or forbidden. A scan of union websites confirms this. Is this a result of the Cold War, do you think? More importantly, what do you think needs to be done, in concrete terms, for the working class to be seen to exist (even by itself), and to 'become the change'? What happens AFTER you stand up to be counted?
Dear Jacqueline, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas, this video is very inspiring to see that some people out there are still talking about class issues, most people i come into contact with these days look at you with sparkling eyes and smile when you mention class! thank you for your great contribution, and i totally endorse Peter's comments.
Thank you for sharing those videos. Your thesis, that class is like race, sex or any other presently "prohibited" grounds for discrimination, makes perfect sense to me.
It is hard to deny that there is a considerable difference between the lives of most unionized employees and those who are not unionized. Does this make unionized employees a privileged class?
I am curious to hear your thoughts on this.
Well Blaine, the US has had a much more severe problem with classism than you guys to the north. It is the entire notion of the "undeserving" poor that has blocked socialized medicine from coming to fruition here. And as I said before, classism has two daughters: sexism and racism. The US middle class is decidedly much more classist and cruel to its poor overall in general than Canada. But since I am a woman that has had to struggle in deep poverty for nearly all my life within the US without any opportunity to leave and emigrate elsewhere, or even do any traveling, I can only speak from my reality: the reality suffered by the poor here in my country. And here in the US, poverty definitely has a female face: 84% of those living below poverty are women.
Secondly, I don't know about where you're at, but here in the states the witch hunts against Communists and socialists was relentless and terribly repressive. It was the purges of Communists and socialists from most union locals here in the states that transformed our unions into well-trained domesticated pets of the capitalist class.
Blaine Donais said:Thank you for this Jacqueline... you have given me much food for thought.
I have a couple of comments and queries regarding your very thorough and enlightening response.
First, let me explain that I feel very lucky as a Canadian growing up in the 1960's and 1970's. My father died just before I was born leaving my mother to raise seven children. I was the youngest. I recall eating lard sandwiches as a child and rarely having enough to eat. I was part of the socially derided "class" because of our poverty. My mother, with her grade 8 education, found a job as a cook in a hospital. But with so many mouths to feed and kids to take care of there was never enough to go around.
But I definitely had advantages that it appears many poor people in the US did not have. First, I grew up in a post-socialist state (Saskatchewan). Health care was free and we had floride in our water. I still have my own teeth. Also education was free and post secondary education was very cheap. I was able to get student loans and work throughout the school term in university to get a good education.
By the time I got to law school in the very early 1990's, the demographics were quite mixed - over 50% female and a large representation of people of color (mostly First Nations) - higher than the demographics of the city that I went to law school in - Saskatoon.
To be sure there were those who complained about "affirmative action" - but most of the labour leaders I had ever talked to in Canada were fairly progressive. I think you are right though that they do not often represent the views of their own membership on alot of equity issues.
If I get the gist of your point correctly, you are answering my question about perceptions of privilege associated with being unionized by saying that that is because unionized employees do belong to a privileged class.
I can certainly buy that for large numbers of unionized employees I have met. But some of the other assumptions give me a bit more difficulty.
First, the equation of unionization with male privilege: some of Canada's largest unions have a higher percentage of female members than male members. This includes the Teachers unions, Nurses Unions and (I think I have this right) Canada's biggest union the Canadian Union of Public Employees. I can definitely see the connection with male privilege and the manufacturing unions. But these are dwindling rapidly in Canada.
Second, the equation of unionization with white privilege: I am not sure how this plays itself out statistically in many Canadian unions. I do know that unions like HERE (Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees) and UFCW in Canada have a very large component of non-white workers. This does not surprise me given that the service industry is predominantly marginalized and therefore would be overrepresented by marginalized groups.
I am not sure if there is a difference associated with the national distinction (Canada vs US) or if I am just looking at this from rose colored glasses. But I thank you for offering me your viewpoint on this. It gives me much to think about in terms of the roles of unions in our society - the roles they have and the roles they ought to play.
I have just been following this thread and paid particular attention to what you have been saying about labour unions. Certainly unions that have been focused on traditional bread and butter bargaining issues have had problems. How about unions that have taken a broader social view of their role in society? Do you see any hope there or these unions just as complicit?
You touched on an issue that I have been struggling with for awhile. I live in Canada and I have voted for the New Democratic Party (NDP) which has been a social democratic party but has now drifted to the right. Also, combined with the events of the economic crisis and subsequent austerity measures being put into place around the globe, I have been forced to re-evaluate my beliefs. I was a strong social democrat that believed that one could work with the market but I have pretty well have come to the same conclusions that you have.
As for the unions, I have been heavily involved in my union but believe that it is not well suited to the current environment even in Canada. It is essentially a business union (white collar) and I have tried to work to change things on the inside but have come to the conclusion that change can only come from the bottom up from the membership and in collaboration with non-unionised workers to avoid what is happening in the United States. To the extent that unions do not address the broader issues that you outlined, they will be condemned to irrelevance in the long-term.